On top of almost everyone’s bucket list lies a very special location: Machu Picchu. This mountain fortress located just outside Aquas Caliente is just one of them most special places we have visited in our travels. The commanding views from Machu Picchu rival any vista we have taken in.
We get asked a lot, is Machu Picchu really that cool? Take our word for it: It is. Set your expectations high: few places live up to the exquisite beauty, intricate history, and fascinating architecture. Machu Picchu certainly one does. The only thing likely to ruin your visit is weather. We will talk about that later. So what is Machu Picchu? The Inca Fortress of Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century. It is a collection of 150 buildings, temples, homes and bath houses. It was apparently abandoned 100 years or so after its construction due to reasons unknown. There is no evidence that Europeans ever laid eyes on it during their conquests in South America in the 1600s.
You may want to check out National Geographic’s “10 secrets of Machu Picchu.”
Machu Picchu was “rediscovered” by a Yale professor named Hiram Bingham. Bingham engaged local residents to assist him in exploring the area. They led him to the ruins that had been taken over by the jungle growth. Over the next 4-5 year Bingham led expeditions to clear the growth and uncover one of the wonders of the world.
Why go? The site is fascinating on so many levels. First you have the intricate stonework that makes up the entire fortress. The farming techniques using terraces with mud from the river below is incredible. Little is known of the ancient Inca religion, but temples and religious sites are on display in the mountain perch. Again, the views from Machu Picchu are simply breathtaking. The green mountains cut against the blue sky are something to behold in person. If you love photography, You will fall in love with Machu Picchu.
But the real reason you should go to Machu Picchu, is the spiritual energy of the place. It’s difficult to describe. Here you are in such a beautiful setting, amid architecture that is way before its time, you sense that this is a wonder of the world.
When to go
Machu Picchu is open to visitors year round. The entire area is a jungle climate zone, so rain is always a possibility. It does rain more in October to mid April. The peak visitors season is July-August. But if you select this time to visit, be prepared for hordes of people. We visited in April and it was perfect. Always pack a sport towel to wipe down the camera.
We must be candid, getting to Machu Picchu is not easy. It is not close to anything. With that said there is an easy way and hard way to get to Machu Picchu. Before we get to the way that we prefer, you must know that there are a number of different hikes through the sacred Valley along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This is a much beloved route of backpackers from around the world. They brag about the beauty of the trail leading to the fortress. There are many guides and travel agencies that can arrange all of the details for this kind of trip. Everything from rustic camping to full on ultra “glamping.” We have heard some backpackers complain that after traveling the Inca Trail, visiting Machu Picchu was actually anti-climatic.
The whole camping hiking thing is just not for us.
For those who are pressed for time or want to take the easy way, We will walk you through it. Most journeys to Machu Picchu begin in Cuzco, Peru. We flew from Lima to Cuzco, then used it as our base to see the Sacred Valley and Machu.
Peru Rail now runs the main train from Cusco to Augas Calientes. There is also a luxury option called the Hiram Bingham run by the Orient Express. The train trip runs 3.5 hours one way. (Sit on the left side of the train going up. It has the best views of the river.) Overnighting in Aguas and coming back the next day is always a viable option. We were pressed for time and did the whole thing in one day, which is doable, just keep in mind the train waits for no one. The train doesn’t actually depart from Cusco, it departs from a little suburb called Poroy. It takes 20 mins or so from your hotel in downtown to get to the train station. The ride takes you along the beautiful Urubamba River. You see a number of little farms and families along the way. Simply beautiful. You can also see the hardworking Sherpa’s linking up with hikers headed out to take on the Inca Trail.
As stated above, Machu Picchu is extremely popular. Train tickets do sell out. It is critical that you buy you tickets on the Peru Rail site as early as possible. You will also need to purchase your tickets into Machu Picchu as well, in advance.
Once you arrive in Augas Calientes, buy water. You can secure a guide in town if you wish, but the entire site is seeable with a guidebook. We actually did both. We saved all our questions for our guide. You then board the bus and head up the switch backs. If you are at all motion sickness prone, meds would be appropriate. These bus drivers are crazy! It is a two-hour hike by foot one way.
There are bathroom facilities at the venue. Bring some bills or coins for the tip. There is a small snack bar there at the main gate. Once you leave that venue, you will need you actual passport to get back in. DONT FORGET TO BRING YOUR PASSPORT!
If you elect to see Machu Picchu’s sister Huayna Picchu, you will need a separate ticket to climb the peak. Our good friends returned from attempting the hike last year. It is rigorous, and at altitude, keep that in mind.
Fighting Couple Tip: Eat an early or late lunch and let the crowds go eat. You will get some great pictures, like this one:
Machu Picchu is truly one of the wonders of the world. We cant recommend it enough to you. Have you been? What were your impressions? Any tips for couples wanting to see the place? Please leave your comments below.
We went to Machu Picchu in 2008 and loved it! But I agree, the crowds in July are horrendous. With this being our only trip I just assumed that Machu Picchu was always that crowded. We were on a volunteer vacation and this was a side trip that was organized for us so our guided group in the early morning was one of dozens of other huge groups touring the area. I don’t recall how long we stayed at the site, we had all day to explore, but I so wish we had stayed till evening. I would definitely go back if I had the chance!
My wife and I went to MP last year in August. I agree with what you posted above with the crowds etc. Most travelers staying in Cusco really need to be prepared for the altitude sickness (AS) that you get when you stay there. We stayed 3 nights in Cusco first and it did help us get acclimated. Since MP is lower in altitude we had a much better time there. Since it was my birthday, my wife splurged for the Sanctuary Lodge. The best thing about that is even in the busy season, all of the park visitors must leave at about 4 (most were gone at 3ish) to get in the long bus lines. We simply strolled through the park with almost no one there knowing we could just walk to the hotel room. It is not a cheap option, but it maybe worth it if you can avoid the lines and stay in the park longer. Like you guys, we also took the train. We were not up for a 4 day walk to MP! Good blog. Thanks -JR
Thanks for the comment. We found the same thing. Altitude sickness is a real challenge. Cusco can also be so cold!
Great timing seeing this post on Twitter. We just booked our flights from Brazil to Lima (and on to Cusco) today. We’re heading there this September. Can’t wait.
We’re skipping the hike too in order to maximize our time at other sites. Plus Elizabeth has a friend in Lima from her Colombia days we are going to meet up with.
Btw – in keeping with the theme of your blog – we had some friends go last year. The altitude in Cusco got to them so badly they said they just fought the whole time they were there. Once they got to lower elevations they were able to laugh it off!
Hey you two! Thanks for the comment. You will love MP! Are you going to spend some time in the jungle? Amazon is highly recommended.
Don’t think so. We will only be there for a week. Is a day trip possible?
We will be heading up to the Brazilian Amazon at some point for sure.
Wonderful photos and a really interesting article. This is definitely one of those places that I really want to see because although I’ve seen it featured in various different travel documentaries, I’m sure it’s so much better when you actually experience it for yourself.
Great post ! Machu Picchu is amazing there is not much more i can say about it as my words wont do it justice the views are incredible but make sure you get there early as it can get really busy and take extra batteries for your camera.. Anyway Keep it great ! you have a great nice nice post. i miss the everything when we were all together with my family ;) dont miss this things.
Agree. One of the most beautiful places!
Thank you for the post. This is my dream to visit Machu Picchu, that I hope will come true one day. I read (or heard) that you should buy tickets for several months in advance. Is it true?
It is wonderful. Getting tickets that long in advance is recommended.
You guys were lucky with the weather. I had a pretty tough time walking up because of it but surprisingly the rainy day did not compromise the views. :)